Southern evangelical culture and a number of other demographic factors account for the fast growth and potential national influence of Catholicism in this region, reports Time magazine (Feb. 14).
While the once-Catholic strongholds of the Northeast and Midwest are showing lower Mass attendance, parochial school closings, and the aftershocks of the sexual abuse crisis, the church in such Southern cities as Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston is booming. While still making up only 12 percent of the population, Southern Catholics saw a growth of almost 30 percent in the 1990s, compared with less than 10 percent for the dominant Baptists. More importantly, Catholics in the South are poised to influence the American church with their decidedly more conservative tone.
Influenced by their conservative Protestant counterparts and by an influx of Latin Americans, Filipinos and Vietnamese, the Southern Catholic growth could “eventually reverse national polls in which a majority of Catholics say they can disagree with church teachings, even on abortion, and remain good Catholics.
Indeed, many Sunbelt Catholics say their mission is to rescue the church from what they consider to be the murky faith of liberal Catholic figures like former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry,“ writes Tim Padgett. The conservative nature of the Southern church could be seen in the founding of the new $200 million Ave Maria University, funded by Domino’s Pizza billionaire Tom Monaghan in Florida.
The minority status of the church and the influence of surrounding conservative Protestants often influences transplanted Northerners to adopt a more conservative and outspoken Catholic identity. New converts to the faith from Protestantism as well as the preference of new priests to work in the region suggests an influential role of Southern Catholicism in the years ahead, Padgett adds.